Venezuela: PSUV Youth congress - struggle between Reformism and Revolution continues

Over the weekend the founding congress of the J-PSUV (PSUV Youth) was held. It revealed two sides to the situation. On the one hand the revolutionary fervour of the youth who managed to block attempt to impose undemocratic Statutes on the organisation, but it also revealed a well-organised bureaucracy intent on stifling genuine debate. The youth of the CMR intervened in this debate, connecting well with the revolutionary rank and file.

In the night and early morning hours of Thursday, September 11th around 1,300 young people from all over Venezuela arrived at Puerto Ordáz (Ciudad Guayana) in the eastern state of Bolívar, to celebrate the founding congress of the J-PSUV (PSUV Youth). These were delegates who had been elected in youth battalions and constituencies in their areas and many had travelled between 10 and 20 hours to get to the congress.

The congress, which ended on Saturday, September 13th, was held at a crucial moment for the Venezuelan revolution. On Thursday it was discovered that an unidentified group of former and active duty army officers had been planning a coup against Chávez (see: Coup Plot Against Chavez Disclosed on Venezuelan TV, This was answered with spontaneous demonstrations of tens of thousands of people in Caracas. The day after, Chávez expelled the US ambassador after several public clashes and as a reply to the continuous interference of the USA in the internal affairs of Venezuela. The move was also taken in solidarity with Bolivia, where the Evo Morales government had just expelled the US ambassador for his role in the organisation of a "civic and bosses' coup". This, combined with the contradictions of the revolution that we have described in other articles, set a mood of urgency for the congress.

It was an impressive sight: more than one thousand young revolutionary fighters from every region and municipality of Venezuela. The revolution has brought many young people to their feet in a courageous attempt to transform society and complete the Socialist Revolution. Up until now they had been organized in different collectives, small circles or student organizations - but they wanted a real national, democratic, revolutionary youth organization. It was with this aim in mind that they got together over the weekend in the founding congress of the J-PSUV.

The bureaucracy versus the rank and file

The first one and a half days of the congress were dedicated to workshop discussions on the proposed statues. The delegates were divided into 47 workshops (mesas de trabajo) with round table discussions. Documents on food scarcity and on military defence had also been produced and distributed, but they were not discussed in most workshops.

From the very start one could feel the tremendous pressure from the rank and file that wants to discuss revolutionary politics and have a real say in the matters concerned. Thus, many delegates complained that these documents (that had been produced by un-elected leaders around Héctor Rodríguez, the Minister of the Presidency) had not been distributed before the congress. Thus, the delegates had had no chance to discuss these documents with the members who had elected them, not to speak of being able to make alternative proposals or amendments beforehand.

What also surprised many delegates was the completely undemocratic structure proposed in the statutes. Thus, in the original proposal the national leadership of the J-PSUV was to be composed of only 15 members directly elected by the rank and file and 10 appointed from above by the PSUV national leadership. At the same time, the rank and file had no possibility of re-calling the leadership. In the original proposal there were also two paragraphs (articles 9 and 10) about disciplinary measures and sanctions. Formally speaking, these paragraphs were correct, but it is quite clear that they were designed to enable harsh measures to be taken against any opposition to the party leaders.

Pressure for change

These proposals met with complete rejection from the delegates. 34 of the 39 workshops voted against the original statutes and many workshops proposed radical changes to the text. When, at mid-day on Friday, the minutes secretaries of each workshop met to share the opinions of the workshops, the meeting went on for a long time and continued for hours and hours.

A full plenary discussion had been scheduled for Friday afternoon, but this was cancelled by the organisers with no reason given. Instead the delegates were transported to the La Llovizna Park, where an auditorium had been set up below the big theatre. But this was not designed to give room for a plenary discussion... but only to listen to music and entertainment!

Many delegates felt that they had been cheated. Some had travelled 20 hours to get there and expected to have a real influence and an open debate on the burning questions that the Bolivarian revolution faces. But instead of giving this, the un-elected leadership chose to spend their time manoeuvring and trying to find a compromise.

Stifling all debate while making political concessions

Some of the delegates were of the opinion that the plenary discussion had simply been postponed until Saturday morning and that a democratic discussion would take place then. On Saturday the plenary meeting did not begin before 12 am.

The mood of the delegates in this closing plenary session was electric. The most popular slogans being chanted were: "Juventud socialista y jamás reformista" ("The Youth is Socialist but never Reformist") and "Debate abierto - las bases tienen tiempo" ("Open debate - the rank and file has time").

In spite of all this, no room was set aside for any delegate or representative of the workshops to speak and put forward their point of view. Instead, Héctor Rodríguez, Minister of the Presidency, gave a very short speech in which he stated that he appreciated the "openness" of the debate in the workshops and said that, "90% of the proposals of the workshops had been incorporated into the new statutes".

Then the revised statutes were distributed and to the surprise of many a delegate, this document was completely unrecognisable compared to the original statutes. The bureaucracy had been so pressurised that it had made concessions on all the important points of the statutes: The appointing of 10 members of the J-PSUV National leadership from above was replaced with national elections for these positions. A paragraph was also introduced stressing that the leaders can be recalled (although it does not state what organ can do this, nor how it can be done). Apart from this, the paragraphs directed against internal opposition were deleted.

When Hector Rodríguez read aloud the new content of the paragraph concerning the election of the national leadership, the delegates responded by rising to their feet and chanting: "Victoria, victoria, victoria popular!" (Peoples Victory!). The new statutes were subsequently passed with a big majority and thus the meeting in the Cachamay sports hall came to an end.

Many delegates felt - correctly - that this demonstrated the power of the rank and file. In fact, the plans of the Reformist bureaucracy had been decisively defeated. They wanted to impose their un-democratic structure and thus get a free hand to occupy all the leading bodies of the new Youth organization. They wanted to minimize all debate. That was why they didn't publish their proposals before the congress and this is also the reason why they cancelled the plenary discussion. But in the end they had no choice but to accept the amendments of the rank and file.

It is clear that they succeeded in stopping an open plenary debate in the congress on perspectives and the political situation as a whole. This shows the enormous weakness of the bureaucracy, for it cannot allow any free discussion.

Intervention of the Marxists

During the course of these events, the CMR (Revolutionary Marxist Current, Venezuelan section of the IMT) made an outstanding intervention in the congress and connected brilliantly with the mood of the majority of delegates. We were the only clearly defined political tendency that intervened with the selling of papers, leafleting and selling Marxist books and material. Although there were other left-wing groups present, none of them had a clear profile and many of them were international guests who did not make any real political intervention in the congress.

Among the comrades intervening we had delegates and visitors from all over Venezuela, from Mérida, Bolívar, Miranda, Monagas and Lara. We also had international visitors from Sweden, Denmark, Mexico and from Spain with the presence of comrade Beatriz Garcia Rubío as the official representative of the Sindicato de Estudiantes (Spanish School Students' Union).

In the two main rallies in the sports hall at the Cachamay Stadium (on Thursday and Saturday) we put up a banner of the CMR with the slogan: "Young Marxists - students and workers united - For Socialism - against Imperialism and for the formation of the PSUV youth".

In all the events of the congress we had comrades selling the new edition of El Militante and we sold 140 copies. We also had stalls with Marxist books and we raised 1500 BF (nearly 450 euros - a big amount in Venezuela, also taking into account that the majority of the delegates were unwaged students). Our bestseller was a new document (see: Propuesta de programa para el Congreso Fundacional de la J-PSUV) that we had prepared especially for the J-PSUV congress with a Marxist proposal for the programme of the revolutionary youth. This document sold an impressive 105 copies.

As these facts show, there was a real thirst for ideas among the delegates. As the un-elected leaders were denying them the possibility of full plenary political discussions, they saw us as a source of inspiration and insight. Many delegates came towards us and had long discussions with our comrades on the political situation in Venezuela and internationally. Nearly 80 of them gave us their contact details for further discussions - several of them being leaders of collectives and groups in their respective areas.

What was also interesting to notice was the extent to which the CMR/IMT is known in the vanguard of the movement and the respect that our tendency has gained. Most of the activists we spoke to knew about the CMR and had heard about the speaking tour of Alan Woods in July. One delegate, who spoke to us at the stall, said that he thought that the J-PSUV should apply for affiliation to the IMT!

The struggle has just begun

The J-PSUV congress finished on Saturday evening with a huge meeting with Chávez in a hall outside Puerto Ordáz. Chávez gave a long speech, appealing for the youth to help defend the revolution and to learn how to use arms and join the military reserve. He also spoke on Bolivia and the situation in Santa Cruz in particular. He stressed that the fascist violence that is now dominating some parts of the country has only been able to spread because no decisive action has been taken against fascism in time. He said that he and the Bolivarian government would not allow that to happen in Venezuela and he appealed for the youth not to be passive but to "throw the fascists out of all spheres of influence". Chávez's speech was met with great enthusiasm from the youth delegates who kept on chanting "Si se prende un peo, dejános fusiles!" ("If a problem arises - give us rifles!") in reference to the recently revealed coup plotting.

What does the J-PSUV congress reveal? First of all it is a clear response to the pessimists and the reformists who speak about the "low level" of the masses. Here we had more than one thousand youth who are trying to create a Socialist youth organization and are opposing any attempt to turn it into a bureaucratic apparatus. Even though the workshops were the only chance for the rank and file to express themselves, they seized this opportunity with both hands and made a resounding criticism of bureaucracy and a clear appeal for internal democracy. It was this pressure from below that forced the leaders to change the content of the statutes from top to bottom.

Secondly, it shows that the reformists are very well organized at the tops of the PSUV and the J-PSUV. They did not allow any free debate - not because of any organizational circumstances or problem - but because they fear the revolutionary initiative of the masses. In reality these people do not believe in revolutionary Socialism or in the ability of the masses to transform society. In the PSUV they act as a fifth column, which is only interested in careerism and positions.

However, in reality these people are a small minority. The main problem is that they are very well organized and that the mass of genuine revolutionaries in the PSUV and the J-PSUV are unorganised. This explains why they have been able to maintain a certain degree of control.

The conclusion that we can draw from the J-PSUV congress is not pessimistic in the slightest. The congress set the basis for a national socialist youth organisation. It also served to highlight the main contradictions and the perspectives that the Marxists have pointed out for some time. It has served to bring many genuine young revolutionaries in contact with the ideas of Marxism and to discuss together how to defeat the bureaucracy. This will be crucial in the struggle that lies ahead. In the coming months the J-PSUV will be active in the election campaign for mayors and governors on November 23. But the glaring contradiction between reformism and revolution remains unsolved. Sooner or later this will express itself in new struggles between the left and the right.


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